THE role of every school principal in the region is a tough one, even if it’s just a small country village school with less than 60 students.
When the position encompasses a school with an elite reputation achieved over more than 160 years and has an enrolment of more than 700 the title becomes extremely complex.
This was what 30-year veteran educator, Paula Goodwin, faced up to when she unlocked the door to the headmaster’s office at St Mary’s College last year.
Paula brought a stellar reputation to her new role having been the principal at Our Lady’s College in Brisbane for more than a decade.
In a way her journey to Ipswich represented a reconnection to the district as her great grandparents were once the owners of Goebel’s dairy farm in Mutdapilly and her father worked there for many years.
“This college is an icon in the Ipswich community, and I was both honoured and excited when I knew that I would be coming here to carry on the tradition of the school,” Paula said.
“It’s a great time to be leading this college in a period of growth. We currently have 700 students and next year we will expand to 750 and later, with plans for a new building, we will welcome even more.”
There is high demand in the community for a St Mary’s College education with the school annually attracting hundreds of applications from families wanting their daughters to go there.
Applications are made for a Year 7 placement when students are in Years 4-5 and families are required to follow a detailed enrolment process.
“Lots of former students are keen to have their daughters come back to the school they loved and we are now up to our fifth generation in some families,” Paula said.
Overlooking 80 staff members and 700 students is a massive undertaking, but Paula has still been able to find time to offer personal academic mentoring for a group of six Year 12 students who were all randomly selected.
“I do this under a scheme I introduced called Stars and I am pleased to say this student mentoring initiative has been embraced voluntarily by many other teachers here at St Mary’s.
“I am fortunate to have a wonderfully professional and talented team who go over and above for the students who attend this great school.”
Paula’s focus for personally helping students doesn’t just extend to those about to head off to university.
As of next term the school will introduce another one of her new programs given the title of “Gems”.
In simple terms it’s for the young girls who will be starting the following year at St Mary’s and it’s aimed at helping them be better prepared and educated about what they can expect when they walk through the college’s 160 year old school gates in January, 2024.
On the question of what is the best thing about being a principal Paula said it was the connection you had with young people on their journey in achieving their aspirations and goals.
On some of the toughest things she said it was to manage strict budgets, the many growing compliance issues, staff selection, forward planning and marketing.
She said managing parent’s expectations meant a principal always had to be approachable and they needed to understand where a parent’s passion came from.
“They want to be confident that their daughter’s school is giving her the best opportunity to excel.
“The enrolment process plays an important role in this because a family needs to know how a school will operate and we also need to know what their child’s hopes and dreams are,” she said.